S. Korea, Japan, China agree to accelerate summit efforts

2023. 11. 26. 18:16
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Seoul hosting 3-way summit within this year appears to be no longer feasible
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin (center) poses for a photo with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa before their trilateral talks in the southeastern port city of Busan on Sunday. (Yonhap)

BUSAN — The top diplomats of South Korea, Japan and China reached a consensus on Sunday to accelerate efforts to hold a trilateral summit at the earliest time, but without specifying a time frame.

"The three ministers reached an agreement to promptly restore and normalize trilateral cooperation," South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin told reporters following the trilateral meeting.

"The three ministers have reaffirmed the agreement to convene the summit meeting -- the pinnacle of the trilateral cooperation framework -- at the earliest convenient time and have committed to expediting the necessary preparations for the summit," Park said.

The decision was announced following a crucial meeting between Park and his Japanese and Chinese counterparts, Yoko Kamikawa and Wang Yi, in Busan. This trilateral foreign ministerial meeting marks the first of its kind in four years and three months since August 2019.

The primary objective of the meeting was to delineate the time frame and agenda topics for the summit, but ended without producing a specific agreement.

"At the moment, there is no agreed-upon date for the summit meeting, and discussions are ongoing regarding various possible dates," a senior official at the Foreign Ministry said on condition of anonymity in a closed-door briefing following the meeting.

The Korea Herald learned that Seoul is leaning towards scheduling the summit for early next year, considering that hosting the three-way summit this year has been deemed no longer feasible.

The trilateral summit, encompassing South Korea, Japan and China, has convened eight times, with the latest gathering taking place in Chengdu, China in December 2019. The ninth summit is scheduled to be hosted by South Korea. Since its initiation in 2008, the hosting rotation has adhered to the sequence of Japan, China and then Korea.

The three-way agreement to hold an annual summit since 2008, with the goal of promoting regional cooperation, has encountered challenges. The ninth summit was postponed due to the worldwide impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the strained relations between South Korea and Japan.

During the meeting held in Busan, the three ministers notably agreed on three major ways to develop trilateral cooperation, the unnamed senior official told reporters during the briefing.

The first is to enhance the institutionalization of trilateral cooperation, ensuring its stable and sustainable development. This involves actively operating intergovernmental consultative bodies and the resumption of any that have been temporarily suspended, according to the unnamed senior official.

The three parties also concurred on the need to further enhance cooperation that translates into tangible benefits for the citizens of the three countries. To that end, the minister highlighted the importance of collaboration in six key areas: people-to-people exchanges, science and technology, digital transformation, sustainable development and climate change, health care, aging populations, economy and commerce as well as peace and security.

The top diplomats also committed to developing the scope of trilateral cooperation, contributing to regional stability and prosperity.

The meeting unfolded at a pivotal moment, amidst escalating inter-Korean tensions. North Korea on Thursday declared its intent to discard the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement, following South Korea's announcement of the suspension of the agreement's no-fly zone clause in a tit-for-tat response to the North's spy satellite launch.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin speaks during his trilateral talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa in the southeastern port city of Busan on Sunday. (Yonhap)

Park said the three foreign ministers had broad discussions on Korean Peninsula affairs, the regional situation and global issues including Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

"I particularly emphasized that recent provocation, including North Korea's launch of purported military reconnaissance satellite and ballistic missile launches, along with nuclear development, pose one of the most significant threats to regional peace and security," Park said.

"In response, the three ministers have agreed to continue communication at various levels to address the North Korean nuclear issue," he said.

China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, expressed concerns over intensifying tension on the Korean Peninsula and said that China will play a role in stabilizing the situation, during a separate meeting with his South Korean counterpart.

The two also agreed to reinforce high-level and strategic communications for reciprocal visits between the foreign ministers and the potential visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea, according to South Korean officials.

The South Korean and Japanese top diplomats also had a separate meeting, engaging in in-depth discussions on bilateral ties and mutual interests such as cooperation in advanced technology and addressing various pending issues, including North Korea's latest launch of a purported military reconnaissance satellite, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

Park and his Japanese counterpart notably discussed the recent ruling of a South Korean court on "comfort women" -- Korea's euphemistically labeled victims of sex slavery during the Japanese colonial period -- a long-standing dispute between the two countries.

A South Korean appeals court on Thursday reversed a previous ruling, finding the Japanese government liable for damages to be paid to Korean women forced into wartime brothels during its 1910-45 occupation of the peninsula. The court's decision provoked a backlash from Tokyo.

The meeting between Park and Kamikawa extended to 85 minutes, surpassing the initially scheduled duration by 25 minutes. But the extended discussion was motivated by a "mutual dedication to fostering a future-oriented and constructive evolution of Korea-Japan relations, while collectively addressing pending issues," another senior official at the Foreign Ministry said on condition of anonymity.

By Ji Da-gyum(dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)

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